A Carolina Christmas, With Kathy Mattea

Direct from the largest room in the largest private home in the country, WDAV and NPR present A Carolina Christmas From Biltmore Estate, With Kathy Mattea — a new special featuring classic and contemporary holiday songs.

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From left to right: Rick Blackwell, Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley. Wiley Stewart hide caption

itoggle caption Wiley Stewart
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From left to right: Rick Blackwell, Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley.

Wiley Stewart

The tradition of Christmas music at Biltmore Estate goes back to 1895, when on Christmas Eve, George Washington Vanderbilt officially opened his Asheville, N.C., vacation home — a sprawling French chateau surrounded by 8,000 acres of beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Grammy Award-winning singer Kathy Mattea and her band perform on a temporary stage set up in the Biltmore Banquet Hall beneath a 70-foot ceiling, surrounded by ancient tapestries and suits of armor, in front of a triple fireplace 30 feet across. With them, the choir VOX and the Celtic group The Beggar Boys perform new arrangements of songs from her two Christmas CDs, Good News and Joy for Christmas Day. There are also traditional carols and up-tempo gospel tunes on the program, with guest singers Abigail Haynes Lennox and Catrina Pegues.

The show was recorded in front of a live audience with Jennifer Foster, midday host at Classical Public Radio 89.9 WDAV in Davidson, N.C., as emcee. Mattea says she's usually touring leading up to Christmas, and that the number of seasonal songs she performs each year has been gradually growing, with many of the well-known carols she's recorded arranged by her guitarist, Bill Cooley.

A Carolina Christmas from Biltmore Estate, with Kathy Mattea mixes familiar Christmas carols like "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "I Saw Three Ships" with more recent holiday songs such as "Mary Did You Know?," "Good News," "Unto Us a Child Is Born" and "Straw Against the Chill." VOX conductor David Tang has provided new choral arrangements, accompanied by the fiddles, cello, guitar and pennywhistles of The Beggar Boys.

Mattea's band includes Bill Cooley on guitars, bassist Rick Blackwell and percussionist Jim Brock. Although she got her start in Nashville, and is often identified as a country singer, Mattea says she doesn't like to be pigeonholed into any one genre. She's been interested in Celtic folk music for many years, and during the concert played an Irish whistle on a song or two, joining Michael Albert of the Beggar Boys.

A Carolina Christmas From Biltmore Estate, With Kathy Mattea brings the spirit of the season, Carolina-style, to the most opulent of settings.

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